May 10, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Politically arrogant and extremely foolish

THE Australian electorate has a well deserved, and practised, reputation for dealing swiftly with governments, politicians and political parties who treat it with arrogance and contempt.
Judging by the comments over the weekend from Senators Brandis and Mason, among others, there remain some politicians who have yet to get the electorate’s message.
The presumption contained in their comments about a transition in the Liberal leadership, and the Prime Ministership, after the elections is that the result of those elections is a forgone conclusion, so much so that the taxpayers might wish to save themselves the bother of going to the polls (not to mention the cost).
Nothing could be further from the truth, and I don’t need opinion polls to tell me that.
Federal elections in Australia are generally close, with 1996 being an obvious exception.
When one looks on a seat-by-seat basis at the forthcoming poll, it is possible to see how Labor could win with a marginal nationwide swing because of “local factors” – especially in regional Australia.
It is equally possible to see how Labor could lose ground, notwithstanding the apparent improvement in its base vote under Mark Latham.
Even in 1972, with the Liberals led by the hapless (and electorally hopeless) Billy McMahon, the election of the Whitlam Government was somewhat diminished by losses by Labor in Western Australia.
Since then, the Australian electorate has become even more volatile, and certainly less trusting of politicians, and governments.
But back to the weekend comments. The one question that needs to be asked is this – why?
I suspect the answer lies in the pomposity of the Senators concerned, and their remoteness (like that of most of their Senate colleagues) from the electorate. It may also lie in their impatience for promotion and recognition.
If the Coalition allows itself to go into an election campaign debating “when” not “if” Peter Costello will replace John Howard as prime Minister, then it will be courting the kind of electoral retribution inflicted on Leaders such as Nicholas Frank Hugo Greiner, Wayne Keith Goss and Jeffrey Gibb Kennett.
I well recall being in Sydney in the final days of the 1991 NSW State Election, a poll in which the Greiner Government was widely presumed to be heading for a landslide re-election victory. Having read the Sydney papers on a daily basis in the run up to the election, I had my doubts.
The daily media was giving Greiner a tough run for moving into the VIP suite at the Regent Hotel during the campaign, and for restricting public appearances, and press scrutiny, during it.
I tried the “taxi driver test” and my doubts were quickly confirmed. I recall word for word what one cabbie told me “Greiner has done a good job but the c… is too far up himself”.
The result changed the course of NSW politics – Greiner lost most of the seats he had won in the 1988 landslide, paving the way for his inglorious exit a year or so later.
The two Queensland Liberal Senators, and their merry little band of followers, should take note. The electorate is not impressed by politicians who take it for granted; and politicians musing about a change in the Prime Ministership next year (even before a general election is held) are surely taking it for granted in spades!
Senators Brandis and Mason have put the Liberal leadership and “transition” on the public agenda on the eve of the last Budget before the election. Their sense of timing could hardly have been worse.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 11:03 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. I remember:
    – The arrogance of Queensland Federal Liberal MPs who would not listen when people tried to tell them in 1961 that the State was really hurting from the credit queeze, and who pompously (Killen was the worst) lectured them about how it was good for them.
    – The 1969 destabilisation of Gorton by conservative Liberals who thought that their record seat margin post-1966 meant they could afford to start playing games pre-election with the country’s leadership, an attitude which lead to a major ‘correction’ in that year’s Federal Election and paved the way for Whitlam’s ultimate victory.
    – More recently, and closer to home, the arrogance of the Queensland Liberal organisation’s backroom deal with the Nationals which ‘gave’ them the State seat of Broadwater despite local Liberal Party members’ protests and all the evidence that the National Party has very little electoral support in that city post-Joh – an attitude which telegraphed the view that the seat was theirs to ‘give’, not the voters’ choice – and resulted in the wasting of an excellent candidate who misadvisedly agreed to run for the Nationals and lost. (She would have been as close to a certainty as is possible if she had been the Liberal’s candidate.)
    – The Labor Party’s arrogance through the 1950s when they thought they could ignore the electoral damage that would result from their putting factional brawling ahead of listeneing to what the people were saying they wanted from government, an attitude which earned them decades in the political wilderness in both the state and federal arena.
    Now I fear that in 20 years’ time I shall remember how the arrogance of some Liberals who thought that winning their particular intra-party contest was the main game in town, and only managed to earn their polical party the same fate as did the ALP operators of the 50s.
    What I cannot remember is the names of the Labor Party Senators of the 1950s.

    Comment by Kathy Sulllivan — May 10, 2004 @ 8:13 pm

  2. Neither Jeff Wall nor Kathy Sullivan, the two substantial contributors to this thread bother in their submissions to declare their dislike of George Brandis, but I will declare my bias. He’s a mate of mine.
    Jeff Wall asserts that “the presumption contained in [Brandis and Mason’s]comments about a transition in the Liberal leadership, and the Prime Ministership, after the elections is that the result of those elections is a forgone conclusion.”
    The published comment was this:
    “I think most people expect that if we win the next federal election, there will be a peaceful, harmonious transition from Howard to Costello at an indeterminate time in the following parliamentary term.”
    Given that the view expressed was in terms of “if we win”, one may comfortably disregard Mr Wall’s comment as bluster. At least he knows the middle names of a few has-been ex-premiers.
    Kathy Sullivan, after pursuing the same theme of “taking the voters for granted” argues that if the Nationals’ candidate for Broadwater had been a Liberal candidate “[s]he would have been as close to a certainty as is possible”.
    What’s that about taking the electorate for granted?
    The Liberal organisation acted with the authority of the party’s popularly elected executive in making the deal that it did to avoid a three cornered contest. Mrs Sullivan sees this as a denial of choice to the electorate. Apparently this is different from the joint Liberal/National Senate ticket in which she participated to reduce competition between the coalition parties back in the 1970’s.
    The Liberal organisation has many obvious and drastic shortcomings. They are not to be addressed and overcome other than by arguments which have some force of logic and commonsense.
    There are arguments which could be put forcefully (and indeed have been) against what Senators Brandis and Mason had to say. None of them appear in the comments made by Mrs Sullivan or Mr Wall.
    Lastly, people who know them will recall that neither Mr Wall nor Mrs Sullivan are strangers to internal Liberal Party battles. For example, Mr Wall was a strong proponent of Bronwyn Bishop’s campaign against John Hewson. Mrs Sullivan sued her Liberal successor in the seat of Moncrieff for defamation after he allegedly accused her of participation in the defeat at preselection of the late Neville Bonner.

    Comment by Nick Ferrett — May 11, 2004 @ 7:09 pm

  3. Brandis-presumptuous,arrogant,up himself,born to rule.
    He has always believed that he deserves a cabinet post,and of course being brandis,he knows best.
    God help the poor taxpayer if we are saddled with this arrogant goose,a good reason to vote labor I reckon.Keep another lawyer from inserting his snout in the ministerial trough.

    Comment by humphrey — May 11, 2004 @ 9:22 pm

  4. kelly blue book

    Comment by kelly blue book — May 23, 2004 @ 7:09 pm

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